Friday, October 30, 2009

New Trail, Daydreams, and Wild Boar

With Carly's ear infection being cleared up with antibiotics, Reese recovering from oral surgery, and Charlie busy working, I decided to take a little hiatus from reality and do some exploring. Zeke, as usual, is always up for riding new trail. Today was going to be all about leaf-watching, the non-couch potato way ... on two knobbies!

I picked out a horse trail on the National Geographic map and met Zeke up at the fish hatchery this morning at 9:30 am. Blustery winds, but temps in the upper 60's awaited us. Ahh, heaven! With Stumpy at the spa and Indy on vacation, that left Crash ('06 Epic) for 'splorin' duty today. I had just mounted some super heavy tires, was running my PowerTap, and had stuffed my saddle bag until I could just barely close it, so her normal weight of 24 lbs swelled up to 27 pounds.

We began with a climb up a fireroad that was so littered with yellow, red, and orange leaves that it narrowed the roadway down to just double-track width. The smell of fallen leaves were so rich that it had a mind-numbing effect on me. Just what I needed as my week had been full of drama.

After about 7 miles, we crossed a creek, and began following the Bald River along the horse trail. At first it was pleasantly level and smooth. It was here that we ran in to a couple of deer hunters; very friendly guys who did not see anything today. One of them took a 12 pointer here last year. Hmmm ... should I or shouldn't I tell Charlie?

Soon we saw sign of wild boar. They had really chewed up the trail, making it difficult to ride in places. After a couple more river crossings, the trail began to climb steeply. If I had been riding a horse here, I would definitely want a seasoned one, as the trail had lots of loose moss-covered baby head rocks and log crossings.

There were plenty of hike-a-bike sections and at one point I was looking for a Pisgah National Forest sign. Gee, even Tennessee has its own Farlow Gap! It was slow going for most of this 6 mile trail, but I enjoyed it. There was just nothing like watching Zeke's butt and his "holey" shorts mile after mile.

But really, I treasure the "me" time I get to have while exploring new trail. I am going slow enough that I don't have to think about where my next move is going to be, so that I can drift off in to my own little world of daydreams.

When Zeke said that his altimeter read 3300ft and there was plenty more mountain to climb, I began to think that maybe next time we should ride down this trail. And then I thought how much fun to bomb down this on an S-Works Enduro, that weighs just as much as my Epic now, but with 60mm more travel.

Popping out onto another fireroad, our exploration was soon to come to an end. This road led to one that I was familiar with, except that this time the forest service decided to lay down about 2-3" of large gravel ... the whole way down the mountain. Great! It felt like I was riding on a bed of marbles for 5 miles.

After 3 1/2 hours and 26 mostly fun miles, we were back at the truck.

Where will be my next adventure?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pisgah Stage Race: Transylvania Loop

Distance: 40 miles
Climbing: 9000 ft
Temperature: 35-55 degrees
Time: 4:10:28

I woke up feeling like a train wreck. The last time I experienced this feeling was Stage 6 of TransRockies. I am not sure why. I did everything right after yesterday's stage. I made the coffee stronger, hoping to break down the cobwebs in my head.

Today's start was cold, but dry. However, Todd announced that he had been up to Farlow Gap at 2:30 am and was greeted by snow and ice. Fearing riders' safety, he asked us to decide to take out this section or not. After 3 days of extreme weather conditions and a brutal course, not one racer wanted to tackle an icy Farlow. This would shorten the course by 8-9 miles. O.k. by me as I still felt like crap at the start.

After the 1/2 mile neutral start, I hopped on Cheryl's wheel and we began with a 6 mile gravel climb, followed by a short rolling section, and then a quick descent down to Hwy 276. The pace was hard; close to my breaking point. I stayed with her until the top. It was here that my legs died. The descent was soft and had lots of loose gravel, so I had to push hard even on it.

A short pavement section brought me to the next gravel climb. Ughh! It was here that I was passed by Sue first, then Brenda. Was I pedaling backwards? Sure felt like it. I struggled to maintain my speed. After some more rolling sections, I hit the Cove Creek Trail. Back in my element, I was able to kick it up a bit. Soon I passed Brenda and then hit the connector trail over to Daniel Ridge Trail.

After riding just the last little bit of Daniel Ridge, I was once again back on gravel. I was able to big ring it on the Davidson River Trail. Then back onto MORE gravel road where I retraced my steps to get back over to the other side of Hwy 276. Brenda passed me here like I was standing still. It seemed effortless for her, as she would stand and climb up the mountain like it was just a hill. She was strong today!

And so it went like this for me the remainder of this stage. I suffered on the roads and enjoyed the singletrack. Bennett Gap Trail was super fun! After the rock ledge drops of death (which I scooted/slid down, I enjoyed the fast and flowy descent back down to the riding stables. I caught Brenda here again.

The last gravel climb to Black Mountain seemed like an eternity, although it was only 30 minutes (should have been 20). Brenda passed me for the last time today and I did not see her until the finish. Once again, Ienjoyed the last 2 mile descent to the finish. Cheryl was able to maintain a strong pace today and put enough time on me to take 2nd.

I was frustrated not to be able to maintain my second placing. But that's racing. Cheryl was able to overcome a slow start and finish strong. But frustrations aside, I had a blast. I loved the course, except for the 30 miles of gravel roads on the third stage. Not only did the singletrack test your skills, but the weather tested your ability to adapt and overcome. Surprisingly, the attrition rate was low; I guess the racers knew what they were getting into when they signed up.

The course markings were superb, the volunteers were awesome. One thing I did miss was the post-stage camaraderie. Everyone was quick to high-tail it out of there and go their separate ways. At least the sun shined on the last day, so that people hung out at the finish and the awards ceremony.

Thanks to Specialized for an awesome ride aboard my Stumpjumper. Stumpy climbed like a goat and flew on the descents. The only limiter was ME.

Through all the rain, snow, and river crossings, Chamois Butt'r kept my taint comfy.

My green Ergon GR2 carbon grips kept the numbness and ulnar pain away, yet allowing full control on those nasty descents.

My Magura Marta SL's were superb. One set of pads for the whole race, no fading on those long, ugly descents, and superb control.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pisgah Stage Race: Land of the Waterfalls Loop

Distance: 44 miles
Climbing: 9500 ft
Temperature: 30-40 degrees
Time: 5:26:13

Upon waking this morning, I still had not figured out what I was going to wear. The forecast called for rain/snow mix. Finally, I settled on arm warmers, knee warmers, a GoreTex rain jacket, shower cap, and toe warmers. I knew the river crossings would kill the toe warmers, but at least they would start off warm.

The 6 mile pavement start to Turkeypen Gap Road was pretty mellow. I guess no one was anxious to get to the 7 river crossings. I stayed just off the front, enjoying the draft. However, I did get a lot of wheel spray. It had rained pretty hard the night before, so the roads were very wet. With the easy pace, this was the first time that I got to ride next to Jeremiah, Sam, and Christian.

Once we turned left and began to climb up the gravel road to the Vineyard Gap Trail, the race was on! I kept a comfortable pace, allowing my legs to warm up and come to me. Upon entering the singletrack, Sue and Cheryl were ahead, and Brenda was just behind me. The trails were in awesome shape. Wet, but amazingly, traction was good. Kudos to Specialized and Ned for the Captain's!

The descent down to the river was a bit tricky as there were lots of slick-log, diagonal waterbars. I managed to stay upright and enjoyed the ride down. At the first crossing, which was the deepest, there was a volunteer in waders out in the middle telling us exactly where to cross. Talk about dedication!

It was just above my crotch, but the footing was good. The next 6 crossings were just as long, but only knee to mid-thigh deep. I actually enjoyed these crossings and managed to catch a lot of racers here, including Cheryl. I could not contain a small chuckle as I watched her cross. Her short (but powerful) legs made it difficult for her to keep her wheels out of the water. She struggled to lift her bike high enough to clear the water.

After the crossings and some more flattish singletrack, Cheryl and I were together for the second gravel road climb up to Yellow Gap. It was much softer today and it took all I had to hang onto Cheryl's wheel. Let me tell you, Cheryl is not only a singletrack goddess, but a fireroad phenom!

At the top of the climb, Cheryl stopped momentarily at the aid station. I went on. Surprisingly, even though my shoes and knee warmers were soaked, I was warm. I entered the Laurel Mountain singletrack feeling pretty good. I was soon joined by Van and Cheryl and together we stayed together on this section. As we continued to climb, it suddenly got really COLD and then it started snowing. It was beautiful. About 1/2 to 1 inch lay on the freshly fallen leaves and the trail was the only part that wasn't white.

There were some pretty rugged hike-a-bike sections. This was when my hands got a bit cold as I had to carry the bike. My toes soon lost feeling, which was o.k. because at least there was no more painful tingling.

Cheryl led us down the Pilot Rock descent. We soon dropped Van. I let Cheryl open the lead a bit. It was very technical with lots of loose rock and I wanted to be able to see what was ahead and not fixate on her rear wheel. At one area there was a group of people watching the racers. I was amazed at the numbers there because it was a pretty good hike up to this point. We mountain bikers are a tough breed!

Popping out onto the next fireroad, my fingers were cold from the long descent. They quickly warmed back up as the road pointed up. I stopped at the next aid station, grabbed a water bottle, and a mouthful of fig newtons. Thank you, Bruce for some real food.

Cheryl was only seconds ahead of me at this point. She must have turned on her afterburners because she quickly got smaller and smaller. I settled in to a comfortably fast pace, but that fireroad just seemed to go on FOREVER. This led me to a short section on Hwy 276, followed by a 1 mile climb up to a connector trail to Avery Creek Trail.

Being fresh cut, steep, and wet, I had to focus on a smooth cadence to keep from spinning out. Once I hit the Avery Creek Trail, I had a blast on the rocky, rooty, ledgy descent. This was much easier to ride as compared to last month when there was a small river running down it. The flat section of this trail passed by quickly and soon I was back out onto more fireroad.

Climbing up the fireroad to the Black Mountain descent, I was pooped! I rode as hard as I could. I wanted to concede as little time as possible to Cheryl. At times, I was pushing it to a point where I was breathing like an asthmatic. But I kept telling myself to just get to the trail and I could rest ... a bit.

The last little hike-a-bike flew by. It seemed much easier than the day before. I flew down Black Mountain much faster this time. I got squirrely one time, but overall had a good run in to the finish.

Cheryl had gained back 4 1/2 minutes back on me. Now I was only 5 1/2 minutes ahead of her. I knew I was in trouble, but could only hope that she had burned a few matches today. Sue, once again, finished about 15 minutes in front of me.

This stage was spectacular and had a good mix of singletrack and fireroad. The course markings were perfect; not once, did I have a feeling of going the wrong way. Lots of course marshals out there in extreme conditions, ensuring our safety.

My support crew gave me the opportunity to recover as much as possible. Zeke took care of my bike and Barb gave me one of the best massages ever! I went to bed early, hoping that my legs would be ready for tomorrow's fight.

(Photo by Rich Dillen)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pisgah Stage Race: White Squirrel Loop

Distance: 41 miles
Climbing: 9000 ft
Temperature: 45-52 degrees
Time: 4:46:05

A neutral start up the pavement allowed me to warm up the legs a bit. After 1/2 mile we turned onto a 7 mile gravel road climb. Sue, Cheryl, Brenda, and I rode most of the climb together. Since my legs were feeling good, I decided to pick up the pace a bit. I was anxious to hit the singletrack.

As I passed the first aid station at the top of the climb, the volunteers were cheering for me and calling out my name. As I dipped down onto the singletrack, I heard them cheering again, telling Sue she was in second. Then they asked for her name. Whaddya mean!?! They knew me, but not THE SUE HAYWOOD? I thought that quite hilarious.

Buckhorn Gap Trail was a big ring gentle descent ... well, gentle for Pisgah. I was having a blast! As I turned onto Squirrel Gap Trail, I looked behind me, but saw no one. I continued to rail down the descent. As I was approaching the bottom, my front wheel hit a softball-size rock that launched and hit me square on the knee-cap. The pain was immediate and so intense I got nauseated. I slowed down to assess my knee. I did not feel any grinding and the pain did not change throughout my pedal stroke so I assumed nothing was broken. After soft-pedaling for a few minutes the pain subsided to a dull ache. Close call!

This allowed Sue to catch back up to me and together we climbed up the steep rooty, rocky, ledgy portion of Squirrel Gap. Not wanting to bobble in front of Sue, I remained completely focused on the trail. I dabbed a couple of times, but luckily I was far enough in front of Sue to not knock her off her line. It was very inspiring to have Sue commenting to me about my riding ability.

On the second steep climb, my rear tire spun out on a waterbar. I gave the lead to Sue at this point. It was great to watch her lines. I feel that I cleaned more sections than I would have had I been in the lead. I managed to hang with her until the Laurel Creek descent. Smokin' Sue dropped me at this point.

I saw Sue again for a brief moment as I started up the second gravel road climb. This road was pretty soft and I had to constantly keep on the gas. As I approached the second aid station at Yellow Gap, Trish told me that I was just 2 minutes behind Sue. I grabbed a bottle, a new gel flask, and headed out onto the next 6 mile section of gravel road.

I tried to stay with a group of 3 guys, but just did not have the power. This was by far the hardest portion of this stage. Rolling fireroads and headwinds just do not suit me.

Climbing back up the Buckhorn Gap Trail, I was once again in my element. After passing the third aid station, I began the climb up Black Mountain. I stayed on the bike for about all of two minutes. Then the hike-a-bike of death began. I think it was about 30 minutes of pushing, carrying, and scrambling up waterbar switchbacks and multiple rock ledges.

Halfway up this climb, a guy sitting alongside the trail taking pictures said that it was all rideable from here. Well, I think I rode about 100 yards before getting back off the bike. Should have known better; anytime anyone paints a pretty picture for you during a stage race, it turns into a death march!

Finally I was back into familiar territory and, aboard Stumpy, I thoroughly enjoyed the next descent. I figured out here that the faster you go, the smoother it gets! Another shorter hike-a-bike section led to the last 2 mile, 1500m, drop down to the finish. Thanks, Todd, for allowing each stage to finish with such a fun descent!

I passed under the Kenda banner feeling like I had left some in the tank for the next two days.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pisgah Stage Race: The Prologue

I arrived in Brevard Wednesday afternoon to pouring rain and temps in the 50's. After checking in to Adventure Village's cute little "camping cabin," Zeke and I headed over to the college to check out the prologue course.

I had envisioned a 6 mile loop traversing through the campus. Upon arriving and seeing no course markings, I wondered what Todd, the race director, had up his sleeve. The campus was pretty flat, save for one small hill off in the distance.

After putting on my bike shoes, which were to be my hiking shoes for the day, I wandered over to said hill. Ah! Fresh cut trail zig-zagged up the hill. We walked up this trail, shoes squishing in the mud, careful not to wipe out on the slick, polished roots. I was having a hard enough time maintaining my balance walking; I could only imagine what it was going to be like racing over this same terrain.

Seeing no other trails and having no clue what the prologue would be, we headed back to our cabin to eat and sleep.

Awaking Thursday morning to the sound of rain, I struggled to put a smile on my face. Glued to the weather channel, I prayed for a break in the weather. After a semi-lazy day drinking, fueling, checking out the bike, Zeke and I headed over to the venue.

Miraculously, the clouds broke apart and rays of beautiful sunshine washed down upon the campus. Upon receiving my race plate, number 13, I found out that today's stage would be a short, short-track event. 4 laps, 1 mile each, with us climbing up the trail I had discovered yesterday.

Initially, I was bummed about my 6:15pm race start, but with all the other categories going before me, it would give the trail a chance to dry out. The first couple waves had it the worst with a lot of them running up the slick singletrack.

By the time I got around to pre-riding, it was all rideable save for one right-hand, off-camber, rooty switchback. We got to start with the elite men. My two goals were to: 1. not get lapped by the men, and 2. conserve my energy for the real stages.

When the gun went off, it felt like an XC race. Ouch! Even though I had warmed up for 45 minutes, the first 1/2 mile still hurt. Sue and Cheryl passed me on the gradual gravel climb up the backside of the hill. I was content to stay in third.

Cheryl led the first lap. Sue then passed on an open stretch and never looked back, slowly gaining a 50 second advantage over Cheryl and I. I just stayed on Cheryl's wheel and maintained her pace. Janel was with us for 2 laps and then slowly fell off our pace. And Brenda was somewhere behind her.

I crossed the finish line in :28:26, 1 second behind Cheryl. Pleased with how my legs felt, I then started the post-race race. You know, recovery drink, bike maintenance, body maintenance, refueling, resting, etc. This can be as hard as racing, but with Zeke supporting me, it afforded me a bit more time to recover for the successive stages.

Excited about tomorrow's stage, I drifted off to sleep, pre-riding the Squirrel Gap Trail in my mind's eye...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

TransRockies Race Face

While staying in a cabin in Nipika during TransRockies, we met some TR3 racers from Tucson and Durango. They recently sent us the above photo of Day 1's start. Now this photo was taken while our morale was high, temps were warm, and skies blue. Little did we know that Zeke's expression would be a hint of what was to come. Not sure what Zeke was thinking when this photo was taken.

On a funny note, the team in red/white/blue next to us were from Portugal. While we were staying at the Nipika cabin for two nights, these guys were in tent city. However, they invited theirselves in to our cabin that we paid for and were sharing with about 6 other racers. Initially, we were o.k. with that, as they were just wanting to use our wi-fi.

But while Zeke and I were out racing the Nipika TT, our cabin-mates told us that they went from using the wi-fi to using our kitchen to prepare their food and drinks. The final straw was when one of them used our bathroom to unload a stink-bomb! After that, they were kicked out! Hence, their new team name became "El Dumpo."

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Parent First, Racer ... ummm, Last

These past few days it has been difficult for me to get motivated on the bike. I started the week off with a cold, the second one in 6 weeks. I attribute this to being exposed to more sickly people and end of season fatigue.

Then, on Wednesday, I awoke to a senseless tragedy. I found Angel in my backyard, mauled to death by a dog. Unfortunately, Carly bore witness as well.

I had adopted Angel in 1999 from a gentleman who had rescued her from negligent owners. When I first laid eyes on her, she had large open sores on her footpads and her ears were crinkled and bloodied from skin cancer. I surgically repaired her footpads and performed a medical ear trim, hence the "ferret look."

Carly first came to know her when Angel slept with her as an infant in her bassinet. I think Angel was instrumental in developing Carly's love of animals and helping her not to develop allergies. Carly was able to "waller" Angel (i.e. to hug, squeeze, tug, pull, and other forms of kitty torture) without Angel never raising a claw or tooth to her.

Just last year I took Angel to Carly's 1st grade class and talked about being a veterinarian. Angel patiently allowed all 30+ kids to waller her, too.

Zeke was the only person outside my family who Angel took up with. Each and every time that he was at our house, Angel would rouse from her place of sleep to greet him. And if he sat down longer than 30 seconds, she would be on his lap.

Perhaps it would be easier to accept her death if her kidneys had failed or she had cancer. I had prepared myself two times in her life for this. One time, when she had acute kidney failure. The second time when she developed autoimmune hemolytic anemia. By the grace of God, I pulled her through both times.

But I was just not prepared for what I saw on Wednesday. And this is Carly's first pet loss. This is what I am having the most difficult time with. My daughter has lost that sparkle in her eye, that cheery smile, that innocence. Welcome to the real world, kiddo!

Given time, the smiles and laughter will return. The happy memories will overwrite the shocking view outside our breakfast nook window. BTW, how long does the anger stage of grief last? Any longer and I am going to kill someone or something!

It's 5am. Do you know where your DOG is?